JUST RELEASED

November Page III

Summaries of recently released decisions to be included in the next issue of the Digest (uncorrected)

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

Revocation of Plumber’s License Too Severe a Penalty

 

The First Department determined that the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) imposed too harsh a penalty when it revoked petitioner’s master plumbing license after finding she violated the NYC Building Code:

 

…[W]e find that the penalty of revocation was excessive upon considering the following factors: the license is petitioner's sole means of livelihood; this was the only instance of misconduct in an otherwise unblemished history as a licensed master plumber since 2001; there was no resultant harm to the public or the agency; and petitioner seemingly acknowledged the potential for harm when she informed the owner that his worker's performance was inadequate and proposed that her workers correct the violations … . We note that the record demonstrated that DOB's precedent indicates that in several other instances where licensees have committed similar acts of misconduct by performing work prohibited by the Code and/or submitting false reports or documents to DOB, which potentially placed the public at greater risk of harm than the misconduct at issue here, the agency imposed far less severe penalties. Matter of Ward v City of New York 2013 NY Slip Op 07569, 1st Dept 11-14-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Evidence Not Sufficient to Demonstrate Spanish Document Was an Enforceable Judgment/In Motion for Summary Judgment in Lieu of Complaint (CPLR 3213) There Is No Impediment to Plaintiff’s Supplementing Its Papers After Defendant’s Response

 

The First Department determined Supreme Court should not have decided, as a matter of law, a Spanish document was a judgment enforceable in New York. Only differing expert affidavits were provided and the operative statutes were not translated and submitted to the court. In addition, the court noted that the plaintiff’s submission of papers after defendant responded to the motion for summary judgment in lieu of complaint was properly allowed. Defendant was able to respond to the additional documents:

 

CPLR 5302 provides that New York will recognize foreign decrees that are "final, conclusive and enforceable where rendered even though an appeal therefrom is pending." * * * The motion court was provided with the affidavits of the experts whose opinions differed, but was not provided with translated copies of the [statutes] cited by both experts. Thus, the court was not provided adequate information to determine as a matter of law that the document is a final judgment under Spanish law and ripe for enforcement in New York. * * *

 

There is no absolute rule that in a CPLR 3213 motion, a plaintiff cannot supplement its papers in response to a defendant's arguments, so as to establish its entitlement to summary judgment in lieu of complaint. "Nothing that is curable by the mere addition of papers should result in a denial of the motion, unless it is a denial with leave to renew on proper papers" (David D. Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 7B, CPLR C3213:8). "Mere omissions from the affidavits" that can be rectified by filing and serving additional affidavits should be cured by a continuance or adjournment in order for the additional affidavits to be served and filed (id.). * * * Here, defendant had an opportunity to address the merits of the later-submitted documents, in the form of a reply in the cross motion, and therefore plaintiff's failure initially to include all the documents did not result in prejudice to defendant and require denial of the motion… .  Sea Trade Mar Corp v Coutsodontis, 2013 NY Slip Op 07560, 1st Dept 11-14-13

 

 

Statutory 9% Interest Rate, Not Contractual 18% Rate, Should Have Been Applied to Breach of Contract Damages (Even Though the Monthly Payments Were Deposited in an Escrow Account During Litigation)

 

The Second Department determined plaintiff should have been awarded prejudgment interest on the principal amount of the damages awarded for breach of contract at the statutory 9% rate, not the contractual 18% rate which was included in the agreed monthly installment payments:

 

…CPLR 5001(a) mandates an award of prejudgment interest on the principal amount of the damages awarded for its breach of contract even though the monthly payments due were deposited in an escrow account during the pendency of this action, and [defendant] received no benefit from the disputed payments while they were held in escrow … . However, the Surrogate's Court improperly applied interest on the monthly payments due at the rate of 18% per annum. "When a claim is predicated on a breach of contract, the applicable rate of prejudgment interest varies depending on the nature and terms of the contract" … . The contract rate of interest will be "used to calculate interest on principal prior to loan maturity or a default in performance," and in the absence of "a provision in the contract addressing the interest rate that governs after principal is due or in the event of a breach, New York's statutory rate will be applied as the default rate" … . Under the terms of the agreement at issue here, each monthly payment includes interest at the rate of 18% per annum. Since the contract rate has already been applied to each monthly payment prior to its maturity, and the agreement does not include a provision addressing the interest rate that governs after each monthly payment is due or in the event of a breach, the Surrogate's Court should have applied interest upon each monthly payment from the date it became due at the statutory rate of 9% per annum (see CPLR 5004…). Ross v Ross Metals Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 07466, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

Relation-Back Doctrine Allowed Amendment of Complaint After S/L Had Run

 

The Fourth Department determined the relation-back doctrine allowed plaintiff to amend the complaint.  The court noted that the addition of “piercing the corporate veil” allegations in the amended complaint was “of no moment” because no new cause of action was stated thereby:

 

In order for the relation back doctrine to apply, a plaintiff must establish that “(1) both claims arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence, (2) the additional party is united in interest with the original party, and by reason of that relationship can be charged with notice of the institution of the action such that he or she will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (3) the additional party knew or should have known that, but for a mistake by the plaintiff as to the identity of the proper parties, the action would have been brought against the additional party as well” … .

 

Here, we conclude that the first prong of the relation back doctrine test is satisfied because the claims against DelMonte P.C. arise out of the same occurrence as that alleged against DelMonte, doing business as Niagara Chiropractic Office, i.e., Venne’s treatment of plaintiff … .  We further conclude that plaintiffs satisfied the second prong of that test inasmuch as DelMonte P.C. employed Venne and therefore may be held vicariously liable for his conduct … .  We conclude that plaintiffs also satisfied the third prong of that test inasmuch as they established that their failure to include DelMonte P.C. as a defendant in the original or first amended complaint “ ‘was a mistake and not . . . the result of a strategy to obtain a tactical advantage’ ” … .  Nasca… v Delmonte…, 1191, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL

 

Plaintiff Entitled to Summary Judgment Against Third-Party Defendant Under Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel

 

The Fourth Department determined plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment against a third-party defendant under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.  Plaintiff was injured in a snowmobile collision.  Plaintiff sued one snowmobile driver and the other snowmobile driver was brought into the case as a third-party defendant. The jury found each driver 50% liable:

 

…[W]e agree that plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment in the amount sought in the complaint based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel.  We therefore modify the order accordingly.  “The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes a party from relitigating ‘an issue which has previously been decided against him in a proceeding in which he had a fair opportunity to fully litigate the point’ ” … .  “The party seeking the benefit of collateral estoppel has the burden of demonstrating the identity of the issues in the present litigation and the prior determination, whereas the party attempting to defeat its application has the burden of establishing the absence of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior action” … .  Here, the issues are identical because in the prior action defendant was required to defend against the claim that he was negligent in the operation of his snowmobile and that his negligence was a proximate cause of this accident.  Moreover, he had a full and fair opportunity to litigate those issues in the prior action and was in no way limited by virtue of the fact that he was a third-party defendant as opposed to a direct defendant.  Specifically, CPLR 1008 grants to a third-party defendant all of the rights a direct defendant has to defend against a plaintiff’s claims, including the full rights of discovery afforded by CPLR article 31… .  Given that defendant had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the negligence claim against him in the prior action as well as to contest the value of plaintiff’s injuries, plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment… . Ackman v Haberer, 1059, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

COUNTY LAW/TAX LAW

 

County Properly Passed Legislation Phasing Out Tax Exemption

 

The Fourth Department determined the county, by passing legislation, could remove a tax exemption for a municipal water and sewage treatment facility:

 

…[W]e agree with the court that the County Board’s adoption of the 2011 resolution phasing out all tax exemptions for municipal water and sewage treatment facilities constituted a “legislative change” within the meaning of the Exemption Agreement.  The County Board is a legislative body that exercises defendant’s power “through a local law or resolution duly adopted by the board” (County Law § 153 [1]; see § 150-a [1]), and the Exemption Agreement specifically provides that a legislative change shall modify the obligations of the parties to comply with such legislative change.  Village of Lowville v County of Lewis, 906, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Consecutive Sentences for Possession of Weapon and the Crime Committed Later with the Weapon Okay

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined “a sentence imposed for ‘simple’ knowing, unlawful possession of a loaded weapon (i.e., without any intent to use) was properly run consecutively to the sentence for another crime committed with the same weapon.  [The defendants in these cases] completed the crime of possession independently of their commission of the later crimes, and therefore consecutive sentencing was permissible.”  The court explained:

 

The mens rea for any crime "'can be formed, and need only exist, at the very moment the person engages in prohibited conduct or acts to cause the prohibited result, and not at any earlier time'" … .  The mens rea for "simple" possession is knowing unlawful possession of a loaded firearm.  So long as a defendant knowingly unlawfully possesses a loaded firearm before forming the intent to cause a crime with that weapon, the possessory crime has already been completed, and consecutive sentencing is permissible.  People v Brown… 199, 200, 201, Ct App 11-14-13

 

 

 

In Deciding the Sequence of Convictions, the Original Sentence Date Controls, Not the Date of Resentencing to Cure a Post-Supervision-Release Flaw

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Abdus-Salaam, the Court of Appeals determined that, with respect to New York’s sentence enhancement statutes, “the controlling date of sentence for the defendant’s prior conviction is the original date of sentence for that conviction… [not] the date of a later resentencing which rectifies the flawed imposition of post-release supervision (PRS) in accordance with … People v Sparber (10 NY3d 457 [2008]). … Therefore, at sentencing for a more recent crime, the defendant’s prior conviction qualifies as a predicate felony conviction if the original date of sentence precedes the commission of the present offense.”  People v Boyer…, 205, 206, Ct App 11-14-13

 

 

Harmless Error Rule Should Not Have Been Applied to Guilty Plea

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, the Court of Appeals, over a dissent, declined to apply the harmless error rule to a guilty plea.  In this driving-while-intoxicated case, the defendant moved to suppress an open bottle of rum and a crack pipe which were found in the car he was driving during an inventory search. The motion was denied. Defendant told the court he wanted to plead guilty because he “was not planning to go to trial if [he] got a negative ruling” on the motion.  On appeal, the inventory search was deemed invalid, but the Appellate Division ruled the error “harmless.”  In reversing, the Court of Appeals wrote:

 

The harmless error rule was "formulated to review trial verdicts" (People v Grant, 45 NY2d at 378).  It requires an appellate court to assess the quantum and nature of the People's proof of guilt independent of erroneously admitted evidence and the causal effect, if any, that the introduction of that evidence had on the fact finder's verdict … .  Harmless error therefore can be "difficult to apply to guilty pleas" -- especially in cases involving "an improper denial of a pretrial motion to suppress" -- since "a defendant's decision to plead guilty may be based on any factor inside or outside the record" (People v Grant, 45 NY2d at 378379).  Consequently, convictions premised on invalid guilty pleas generally are not amenable to harmless error review (see id.).

 

The Grant doctrine is not absolute, however, and we have recognized that a guilty plea entered after an improper court ruling may be upheld if there is no "reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the plea" (id. at 379).  Although a failure to suppress evidence may detrimentally influence a defendant's plea negotiations, a concession of guilt may be treated as valid if the defendant articulates a reason for it that is independent of the incorrect pre-plea court ruling (see id. at 379-380) or an appellate court is satisfied that the decision to accept responsibility "was not influenced" by the error… . * * *

 

Certainly, there may be instances where the failure to grant suppression does not affect a defendant's decision to plead guilty because the challenged proof is cumulative or too trivial.  In this case, however, the denial of the motion to suppress could not be viewed as harmless and the guilty plea must be vacated. People v Wells, 188, Ct App 11-14-13

 

 

Defendant Should Have Been Allowed to Present Evidence Relating to Victim’s Recantation at SORA Hearing

 

The Second Department determined that Supreme Court should have allowed defendant to present evidence (at the SORA hearing) of the victim’s (his daughter’s) recantation of her allegations of sexual abuse, including the testimony of the victim:

 

The Supreme Court erred in precluding the defendant from offering into evidence affidavits from his daughter recanting the underlying allegations of sexual abuse, and denying the defendant's motion in limine to permit his daughter to testify at the SORA hearing. At a SORA hearing, "[t]he court shall allow the sex offender to appear and be heard" (Correction Law § 168-n[3]). The People bear of the burden of establishing, by clear and convincing evidence, the facts supporting the assessment of points under the Guidelines issued by the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders under the Sex Offender Registration Act (see Correction Law article 6-C [hereinafter SORA]; Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 5 [2006]). The SORA court "shall review any victim's statement and any relevant materials and evidence submitted by the sex offender and the district attorney and the recommendation and any materials submitted by the board, and may consider reliable hearsay evidence submitted by either party, provided that it is relevant to the determinations" (Correction Law § 168-n[3]). Further, "[f]acts previously proven at trial or elicited at the time of entry of a plea of guilty shall be deemed established by clear and convincing evidence and shall not be relitigated" (Correction Law § 168-n[3]). Here, the only facts elicited at the time of the defendant's plea of guilty were that, on one occasion, he touched his daughter's breasts and that he did so for sexual gratification, and therefore he was barred from relitigating those facts in this SORA proceeding (see Correction Law § 168-n[3]). However, the defendant was entitled to rely upon the proffered evidence for the limited purpose of contesting the People's allegations that he engaged in intercourse with his daughter and that the sexual misconduct was ongoing, which resulted in the assessment of points under risk factors 2 and 4. Since the excluded evidence was relevant to material issues at the hearing (i.e., the nature and duration of the sexual contact), the defendant should have been permitted to introduce it… . People v Holmes, 2013 NY Slip Op 07459, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Unpreserved Erroneous Denial of Challenge to Juror Required Reversal

 

The Second Department, in the interest of justice, reversed defendant’s conviction based on the trial court’s (unpreserved) error in denying defense counsel’s challenge to a juror for cause.  (Defense counsel did not challenge the juror on the specific ground raise on appeal):

 

Here, during voir dire, a prospective juror stated, "[j]ust my upbringing tells me that the police saw fit to arrest and the District Attorney saw fit to prosecute, so that automatically renders my opinion." The prospective juror never unequivocally stated that his prior state of mind regarding the police and the District Attorney would not influence his verdict, and that he would render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence. His responses as a whole showed that there was doubt as to his ability to be impartial. Therefore, the trial court erred in denying defense counsel's application to discharge this prospective juror for cause … . Because defense counsel exercised a peremptory challenge against this prospective juror, and also exhausted his allotment of peremptory challenges, this error cannot be considered harmless … . People v Campbell, 2013 NY Slip Op 07500, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Valid Waiver of Appeal Does Not Preclude Review of Whether Ineffective Assistance Affected Voluntariness of Plea

 

The Second Department noted that a valid waiver of appeal precludes review of the factual sufficiency of a plea allocution, but does not preclude review of a claim of ineffective assistance where the voluntariness of the plea may have been affected:

 

The defendant's valid waiver of his right to appeal precludes review of his challenge to the factual sufficiency of his plea allocution … . While the valid waiver of his right to appeal would typically preclude review of the defendant's claim that he was deprived of his right to effective assistance of counsel, here, the defendant claims that the alleged ineffective assistance may have affected the voluntariness of his plea, and, as such, his claim is reviewable … . Nevertheless, contrary to the defendant's contention, his attorney provided him with meaningful representation … . Moreover, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in denying the defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea … . People v Milton, 2013 NY Slip Op 07507, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Newly Discovered Evidence Required Vacation of Murder Conviction

 

The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s vacation of a murder conviction (pursuant to a CPL 440.10 motion) based upon newly discovered evidence.  At a hearing, the defendant presented evidence calling into question the testimony of two witnesses who had claimed to have seen the shooting:

 

CPL 440.10(1)(g) provides that a court may vacate a judgment of conviction upon the ground that: "New evidence has been discovered since the entry of a judgment based upon a verdict of guilty after trial, which could not have been produced by the defendant at the trial even with due diligence on his part and which is of such character as to create a probability that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant; provided that a motion based upon such ground must be made with due diligence after the discovery of such alleged new evidence." The defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence every fact essential to support the motion (see CPL 440.30[6]…). The power to vacate a judgment of conviction on the ground of newly discovered evidence rests within the discretion of the hearing court … . The court must make its final decision based upon the likely cumulative effect of the new evidence had it been presented at trial … .

 

Contrary to the People's contention, the Supreme Court properly determined that the defendant satisfied his burden of proof and that the likely cumulative effect of the newly discovered evidence, including the evidence of the broad conspiracy to pay the eyewitnesses to implicate the defendant as the shooter, would have been a verdict more favorable to the defendant … . People v Singh, 2013 NY Slip Op 07508, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Prosecutor’s Circumvention of the Bruton Rule Required Reversal

 

The Second Department reversed defendant’s conviction because of the misconduct of the prosecutor.  In spite of the pre-trial ruling redacting the confession of the co-defendant pursuant to the Bruton rule (prohibiting the use of a non-testifying codefendant’s confession), the prosecutor repeatedly indicated to the jury that the codefendant had implicated the defendant:

 

…[D]uring opening statements, the prosecutor told the jury that, after the nontestifying codefendant was arrested, the police learned of the involvement in the crime of someone called "Live," i.e., the defendant. Thus, the prosecutor improperly implied that the codefendant implicated the defendant in the crime … . In denying the defendant's mistrial motion based on this conduct, the court nonetheless admonished the prosecutor, … telling him that the court was "not happy with the remarks."

 

Despite this admonishment, in summation, the prosecutor again implied that the codefendant had implicated the defendant. Specifically, he unequivocally suggested that the unnamed accomplice referred to in the "question and answer" portion of the statement, whom the codefendant stated had a 9 millimeter gun, was the defendant. Further, the prosecutor projected for the jury, on a video screen, a copy of the codefendant's statement, with the word "we" highlighted in red, and directly suggested that the jury should draw the inference that "we" in the codefendant's statement referred to the codefendant and the defendant. Under the circumstances of this case, this conduct constituted "an unjustifiable circumvention" of the Bruton rule …, and deliberate defiance of the pretrial order. People v Singleton, 2013 NY Slip Op 07509, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Youthful-Offender Sentence In Excess of Four Years (After Probation Violation) Illegal

 

Defendant … appeals from an adjudication that revoked his probation and sentenced him to three terms of incarceration of 1… to 4 years, two of which were ordered to run consecutively to each other.  Defendant’s sentence thus aggregates to a term of incarceration of 2… to 8 years, and we agree with defendant that the sentence is illegal.  “[H]aving adjudicated defendant a youthful offender, [Supreme C]ourt was without authority to impose consecutive sentences in excess of four years.” We therefore modify the adjudication by directing that all of the sentences shall run concurrently with respect to each other… . People v Tajenee J, 1175, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

Failure to Disclose Witness Was a Paid Informant Required Vacation of Conviction

 

The Fourth Department reversed County Court, finding that defendant’s CPL 440 motion seeking vacation of the conviction should have been granted.  The People failed to disclose that a prosecution witness was a paid informant:

 

We note at the outset that the following quote from People v Fuentes (12 NY3d 259, 263, rearg denied 13 NY3d 766) is instructive: “[t]he Due Process Clauses of the Federal and State Constitutions both guarantee a criminal defendant the right to discover favorable evidence in the People’s possession material to guilt or punishment .. . [, and i]mpeachment evidence falls within the ambit of a prosecutor’s Brady obligation . . . To establish a Brady violation, a defendant must show that (1) the evidence is favorable to the defendant because it is either exculpatory or impeaching in nature; (2) the evidence was suppressed by the prosecution; and (3) prejudice arose because the suppressed evidence was material . . . In New York, where a defendant makes a specific request for a document, the materiality element is established provided there exists a ‘reasonable possibility’ that it would have changed the result of the proceedings” … . 

 

Here, there is no dispute that defendant satisfied the first element of the Fuentes test inasmuch as the People do not dispute that the prosecution witness at issue was a paid informant and do not contend that evidence of the status of that witness is not favorable to defendant.  … “[T]he mandate of Brady extends beyond any particular prosecutor’s actual knowledge” …, and “ ‘the individual prosecutor has a duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to the others acting on the government’s behalf in the case, including the police’ ” … .

 

We further conclude that the court should have granted defendant’s CPL 440.10 motion insofar as it sought vacatur of the judgment of conviction on the basis of the Brady issue.  Here, defendant made a specific request for Brady material including agreements between the People and their witnesses, disclosure of whether any information was provided by an informant, and the substance of that informant’s information.  We conclude that “there exists a ‘reasonable possibility’ that [such material] would have changed the result of the proceedings”… .  People v Gayden…, 1095, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

“Depraved Indifference” Standard Not Met/HIV Positive Defendant Did Not Disclose Status to Victim

 

The Fourth Department determined the evidence before the grand jury did not demonstrate defendant had acted with “depraved indifference to human life” (Reckless Endangerment, First Degree). The defendant, who was HIV positive, had unprotected sex with the victim without disclosing his HIV status:

 

…[W]e conclude that the evidence before the grand jury, viewed in the light most favorable to the People …, was legally insufficient to support a finding that defendant acted with depraved indifference to human life (see Penal Law § 120.25…).  Specifically, the evidence established that defendant engaged in unprotected sex with the victim on two to four occasions without disclosing his HIV positive status.

 

Shortly after their sexual relationship ended, defendant told the victim that a former sexual partner had tested positive for HIV and urged the victim to be tested.  The victim was diagnosed as HIV positive several months later.  We conclude that, although defendant may have acted with indifference to the victim’s health, his conduct lacked the “ ‘wanton cruelty, brutality, or callousness’ ” required for a finding of depraved indifference toward a single victim … .  Defendant told the police that he did not disclose his HIV positive status to the victim because he was “afraid [the victim] would not want to be with” him, and that he “loved [the victim] so very much.”  Defendant wrote a letter apologizing to the victim because he was “so upset” and “felt terrible.”  The fact that defendant encouraged the victim to be tested for HIV indicates that defendant “was trying, however weakly and ineffectively,” to prevent any grave risk that might result from his conduct … .  We thus conclude that, “while the evidence certainly shows that defendant cared much too little about [the victim]’s safety, it cannot support a finding that [he] did not care at all” … .

 

We further conclude that the grand jury evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the People …., also did not establish that defendant’s conduct presented a grave risk of death to the victim (see Penal Law § 120.25…).  The victim’s physician, an infectious disease expert, testified that the ability to treat HIV has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, with over 20 different antiviral medications available for treatment.  The expert testified that although an HIV positive diagnosis may have been tantamount to a death sentence in the past, with treatment, the prognosis today is “outstanding,” particularly when a patient promptly learns that he or she is infected and seeks treatment.  Indeed, the expert testified that patients with HIV who take their medication, eat well, do not smoke, and reduce their alcohol intake can live a “very healthy, normal lifestyle,” and he expected a similar prognosis for the victim.  We thus conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, the People failed to establish that defendant’s reckless conduct posed a grave or “very substantial” risk of death to the victim… .  People v Williams, 1196, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

State Pollutant Discharge Permit Properly Approved by DEP

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court and determined the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation properly approved the issuance of a state pollutant discharge elimination system general permit for stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems.  Supreme Court held “the General Permit created an impermissible self-regulatory system that failed to ensure that small municipalities reduced their pollutant discharges to the "maximum extent practicable," as required by 33 USC § 1342(p)(3)(B)(iii) and ECL 17-0808(3)(c), that the General Permit failed to specify compliance schedules with respect to effluent limitations and water quality standards, as required by 6 NYCRR 750-1.14, and that the General Permit unlawfully failed to provide an opportunity for a public hearing on proposed notices of intent before they were submitted to the DEC, in violation of 33 USC § 1342(a)(1) and ECL 17-0805(1)(a)(ix).”  The Second Department disagreed, discussing its reasoning in detail:

 

…[T]he "[m]aximum extent practicable . . . is the statutory standard that establishes the level of pollutant reductions that operators of regulated MS4s must achieve" (64 FR 68722, 68754; see 40 CFR 122.34[a]). The "EPA has intentionally not provided a precise definition of [maximum extent practicable] to allow maximum flexibility in MS4 permitting" (64 FR 68722, 68754). It has determined that "MS4s need the flexibility to optimize reductions in storm water pollutants on a location-by-location basis" (id.). The "EPA envisions that this evaluative process will consider such factors as conditions of receiving waters, specific local concerns, . . . MS4 size, climate, implementation schedules, current ability to finance the program, beneficial uses of receiving water, hydrology, geology, and capacity to perform operation and maintenance"… . * * *

 

Contrary to the petitioners' contention, the General Permit does include a variety of enforcement measures that are sufficient to comply with the maximum extent practicable standard, as described in state and federal statutes (see 33 USC § 1342[p][3][B][iii]; ECL 17-0808[3][c]). * * *

 

It was not arbitrary and capricious for the DEC to limit the opportunity for public hearings to those situations in which a new general permit is proposed or an existing general permit is renewed, since any modifications to a draft general permit resulting from public comment and hearings will extend to all covered entities … .  Matter of Natural Resources Defense Council Inc v NYS Dept of Envtl Conservation, 2013 NY Slip Op 07488, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW/ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

 

Allegations of Economic Injury Not Sufficient to Establish Standing to Challenge Governmental Action Under State Environmental Quality Review Act

 

The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s dismissal of a petition brought by the National Oil Recyclers Association (NORA) challenging the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) finding that proposed amendment s to the NYC rules regarding emissions from use of grade numbers 4 and 6 fuel oils would lead to reduced emissions and would have no significant adverse impacts on the quality of the environment.  The court explained that NORA did not have standing to challenge the finding and the DEP’s failure to provide an explanation for not publishing the proposed rules in its yearly regulatory agenda did not invalidate the rules:

 

To establish standing to challenge governmental action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (ECL art 8, hereinafter SEQRA), the petitioners must show (1) that they will suffer an environmental injury that is in some way different from that of the public at large, i.e., that there is an "injury in fact," and (2) that the alleged injury falls within the zone of interest sought to be protected or promoted by the statute under which the governmental action was taken … .

 

Allegations of potential economic injury alone are insufficient to confer standing under SEQRA … . Here, the first and second causes of action allege the potential of economic harm, but they do not sufficiently allege that the petitioners will suffer an environmental injury that is in some way different from that of the public at large. Such allegations are insufficient to confer standing to assert the first and second causes of action … . Matter of County Oil Co Inc v NYC Dept Envtl Protection, 2013 NY Slip Op 07474, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

EVIDENCE/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Admissibility of Medical Records as Business Records Does Not Preclude Evidentiary Objections to Admission

 

In the context of a personal injury case, the Fourth Department noted that the failure to object to the admissibility of medical records within 10 days (CPLR 3122-a [c]) did not render the documents automatically admissible:

 

Defendants contend that the court erred in denying their request at the commencement of trial to admit all of plaintiff’s medical records in evidence pursuant to CPLR 3122-a (c).  According to defendants, the records were automatically admissible because plaintiff raised no objection within 10 days of trial (see id.).  We reject that contention.  Plaintiff’s failure to object within 10 days before the trial waived any objection plaintiff had to the admissibility of the records as business records (see CPLR 3122-a [c]; 4518 [a]), but he did not waive any objection to their admissibility based on other rules of evidence … .  Indeed, plaintiff properly objected at trial on relevancy grounds with respect to the admissibility of some of the records… . Siemucha v Garrison…, 1145, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Neglect Finding Cannot Be Based Upon Theoretical Future Harm

 

The Fourth Department determined that a finding of neglect “cannot be based upon the child’s possible reaction to future harm:”

 

…DSS failed to meet its burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the “child’s physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired” as a consequence of respondent’s failure to exercise a minimum degree of care … .  The court’s finding of neglect hinges of the testimony of DSS’s expert psychologist that respondent’s dismissive response to the child’s allegations that she had been sexually abused by her eight-year-old cousin put the child at risk of harm because such response would cause the child to be reluctant to report future allegations of abusive contact.  The evidence did not establish that the child was in fact sexually abused, and we therefore conclude that the court erred in finding that respondent is chargeable with neglect for failing to protect the child from actual harm … .  Moreover, the finding of neglect cannot be based upon the child’s possible reaction to future harm.  “[A] finding of neglect will not be based on a failure to prevent theoretical future harm which never occurred” … .  Matter of Lebraun H … 1203, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

FAMILY LAW/CONTRACT LAW

 

Cause of Action for Breach of “Sharing Assets” Agreement Entered Into During an 18-Year “Committed Same-Sex Relationship” Reinstated

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Austin, over a dissent, the Second Department determined plaintiff had stated a cause of action for breach of contract based upon an agreement made during an 18-year “committed, same-sex relationship.” The complaint alleged that the partners had entered an oral “joint venture/partnership” agreement involving sharing assets, including retirement contributions and earnings, in exchange for plaintiff’s leaving her full-time job to care for the partners’ children. Supreme Court had dismissed the complaint. The Second Department reinstated the breach of contract cause of action but affirmed the dismissal of the constructive trust, unjust enrichment and accounting causes of action.  With respect to breach of contract, the court wrote:

 

[The] factual allegations adequately set forth the existence of a contract pursuant to which the plaintiff would quit working full-time, thereby ceasing to earn money toward her own retirement plan, and pursue part-time work enabling her to stay home to care for the parties' children, in exchange for a one-half share in the defendant's retirement accounts accrued during those years that the plaintiff refrained from working at a job which provided retirement benefits.

 

The alleged contractual agreement between the parties was supported by consideration. "Consideration consists of either a benefit to the promisor or a detriment to the promisee. It is enough that something is promised, done, forborne, or suffered by the party to whom the promise is made as consideration for the promise made to him [or her]" … . The consideration here for the alleged contract is the forbearance of the plaintiff's  career, the inability to continue to save toward her retirement during that forbearance, and her maintenance of the household in return for a share in the defendant's retirement benefits and other assets earned during the period of forbearance … . Since the plaintiff also alleged that the defendant breached the alleged agreement and that she has sustained damages as a result of that breach, at this pleading stage, the eighth cause of action must survive dismissal … .

 

The fact that the alleged agreement was made by an unmarried couple living together does not render it unenforceable. "New York courts have long accepted the concept that an express agreement between unmarried persons living together is as enforceable as though they were not living together, provided only that illicit sexual relations were not part of the consideration of the contract'" … . "[W]hile cohabitation without marriage does not give rise to the property and financial rights which normally attend the marital relation, neither does cohabitation disable the parties from making an agreement within the normal rules of contract law" … . Dee v Rakower, 2013 NY Slip Op 07443, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

FAMILY LAW/JUVENILE DELINQUENCY/EVIDENCE

 

Test for Sufficiency of Evidence of Accessorial Liability Is Same As Test for Sufficiency of Circumstantial Evidence

 

 

The Second Department upheld Family Court’s juvenile delinquency finding and explained the burden of proof.  The appellant argued on appeal that, although he was present at the robbery, there was insufficient proof he participated in it:

 

"The evidence supporting a fact-finding in a juvenile delinquency proceeding is legally sufficient if, viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the presentment agency, any rational trier of fact could have found the appellant's commission of all the elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt" … . The test is no different when the evidence supporting the fact-finding is circumstantial … . Although "[a] person's mere presence at the scene of the crime, even with knowledge of its perpetration, cannot render him or her accessorially liable for the underlying criminal conduct" …, the complainant's testimony in this case, when viewed in the light most favorable to the presentment agency, established the appellant's active participation in the incident. Accordingly, the evidence was legally sufficient … . Moreover, in fulfilling our responsibility to conduct an independent review of the weight of the evidence …, we nevertheless accord great deference to the opportunity of the trier of fact to view the witnesses, hear the testimony, and observe demeanor … . Upon reviewing the record, we are satisfied that the Family Court's fact-finding determination was not against the weight of the evidence (see Family Ct Act § 342.2[2]…).  Matter of Chakelton M, 2013 NY Slip Op 07484, 2ndDept 11-13-13

 

 

 

LABOR LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Causes of Action Stated Against County for Allowing Public Traffic During Paving Operation and Violation of Regulation Requiring Truck-Brake Maintenance

 

The Third Department determined plaintiff had stated causes of action sounding in negligence and a violation of Labor Law 241(6).  Plaintiff was driving a truck hauling asphalt to a county roadway paving operation (which had been contracted out to a private company--Graymont) when the truck’s brakes failed. Plaintiff was seriously injured when, after avoiding public traffic, he jumped from the truck which continued on over an embankment. The court upheld the negligence claim against the county which was based upon the county’s permitting public traffic on the road during construction.  The court further determined the county was entitled to summary judgment on its indemnification action against the private construction company (Graymont---based upon the county’s contract with the company). And the court upheld the Labor Law 241(6) claim, finding the regulation requiring truck-brake maintenance supported the cause of action:

 

Plaintiff alleges that the County violated 12 NYCRR 23-9.7 (a),  which provides that "[t]he brakes of every motor truck shall be so maintained that such truck with full load may be securely held on any grade that may be encountered in normal use on the job."  While the County does not dispute that this provision is sufficiently specific to form the basis for liability under Labor Law § 241 (6), it argues that the regulation is not applicable to the circumstances here.  Mindful that "[t]he Industrial Code should be sensibly interpreted and applied to effectuate its purpose of protecting construction laborers against hazards in the workplace" …, we cannot agree.  Although the regulation speaks in terms of the ability of the brakes to "h[o]ld" the construction vehicle, the purpose of the regulation is to ensure proper functioning of a truck's brakes on any terrain or grade normally encountered.  Thus, we find that the language of the regulation addresses not only the ability of a truck's brakes to hold a stopped truck in place, but also the ability of the brakes to bring a moving vehicle to a stop. Duffina v County of Essex…, 515346, 3rd Dept 11-14-13

 

 

LACHES

 

German Museum Proved It Had Superior Title to Ancient Assyrian Gold Tablet in Decedent’s Estate/Doctrine of Laches Did Not Apply

 

In an estate proceeding, the Court of Appeals determined the doctrine of laches did not apply and the German Museum was entitled to the return of the Assyrian gold tablet, which was in decedent’s estate but had been missing from the museum since World War II:

 

We agree with the Appellate Division that the Estate failed to establish the affirmative defense of laches, which requires a showing "that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet and that such failure prejudiced the [E]state" …. .  While the Museum could have taken steps to locate the tablet, such as reporting it to the authorities or listing it on a stolen art registry, the Museum explained that it did not do so for many other missing items, as it would have been difficult to report each individual object that was missing after the war. Furthermore, the Estate provided no proof to support its claim that, had the Museum taken such steps, the Museum would have discovered, prior to the decedent's death, that he was in possession of the tablet … .  As we observed …in a related discussion of the defense of statute of limitations, "[t]o place a burden of locating stolen artwork on the true owner and to foreclose the rights of that owner to recover its property if the burden is not met would . . . encourage illicit trafficking in stolen art" … .

 

Additionally, the Estate failed to demonstrate "the essential element of laches, namely prejudice" … .  While the Estate argued that it had suffered prejudice due to the Museum's inaction, there is evidence that at least one family member (decedent's son) was aware that the tablet belonged to the Museum.  And, although the decedent's testimony may have shed light on how he came into possession of the tablet, we can perceive of no scenario whereby the decedent could have shown that he held title to this antiquity. Matter of Flamenbaum, 178, Ct App 11-14-13

 

 

 

LANDLORD/TENANT

 

Lease/Services Agreement Did Not Allow Building Owner to Recover for Condition of Property

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals determined that plaintiffs, the building owners, could not recover damages related to the condition of the property upon the termination of the lease.  The property was used as a homeless shelter.  The City of New York entered into a Services Agreement with The Salvation Army to run the shelter.  The Salvation Army leased the property from the property owners. The City, in the Services Agreement, was required to pay The Salvation Army’s obligations to the property owners under the lease. The Court wrote:

 

The Lease is clear that, as a general proposition, The Salvation Army is not obliged to pay more to plaintiffs than it can recover from the City, and it is equally clear that The Salvation Army must do what it reasonably can to recover what the City owes it.  If The Salvation Army breached its duty to use commercially reasonable efforts to enforce a City obligation, it could not rely on the City's non-payment of that obligation to defeat plaintiffs' claim.  …[H]owever, … the complaint fails to allege any commercially reasonable step that The Salvation Army should have taken to recover money from the City. Plaintiffs do not identify any provision of the Services Agreement under which the City owes money to The Salvation Army that The Salvation Army failed to collect.  JFK Holding Company LLC v City of New York…, 196, Ct App 11-14-13

 

LIEN LAW

 

Contractor Working for Tenant Could Not Impose Mechanic’s Lien on Property Owner/Owner Acquiesced In, But Did Not Affirmatively Consent to, Work

 

The Second Department determined that the contractor, Matell, who was hired by the tenant to construct a supermarket, could not impose a mechanic’s lien upon the property owner (Fleetwood Park) based on the tenant’s failure to pay.  In affirming the dismissal of two affirmative defenses, the court explained that the lien was timely filed and privity was not required for a valid mechanic’s lien. On the “affirmative consent of the property owner requirement,” the court wrote:

 

"A contractor who performs work for, or provides equipment to, a tenant may nonetheless impose a mechanic's lien against the premises where the owner of the premises affirmatively gave consent for the work or equipment directly to the contractor, but not where the owner has merely approved or acquiesced in the undertaking of such work or the provision of such equipment" … . "To sustain the lien, the owner must either be an affirmative factor in procuring the improvement to be made, or having possession and control of the premises assent to the improvement in the expectation that he [or she] will reap the benefit of it'" … .

 

Here, while Matell presented evidence showing that Fleetwood Park had knowledge of, and acquiesced in, the work performed to convert the leased property into a supermarket for the tenant's use, Matell failed to present any evidence showing that Fleetwood Park conveyed any affirmative consent directly to Matell for the work … . Therefore, Matell failed to make a prima facie showing that Fleetwood Park affirmatively consented to the subject work.  Matell Contr Co v Fleetwood Park Dev LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 07456, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

LIEN LAW/APPEALS

 

Statutory Requirements for Recovery and Limits Imposed by Subrogation Explained/”Law of the Case” Doctrine in Appellate Context Explained

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Chambers, the Second Department determined plaintiff could not rely on the doctrine of the law of the case (a decision in a prior appeal) to prove the amount owed on its mechanic’s liens. The court used the opportunity to explain the “law of the case” doctrine (re: prior appellate decisions) and “review the statutory requirements for recovery under the Lien Law, and the limits on recovery imposed by the principle of subrogation:”

 

In addition to a lienor's right to recover being limited by the contract price or reasonable value of the materials provided, it is further limited by the principle of subrogation (see 8-92 Warren's Weed New York Real Property § 92.11[1], [4]; 34 New York Practice: Mechanics Liens in New York § 2:3. Lien Law § 4(1) provides, "If labor is performed for, or materials furnished to, a contractor or subcontractor for an improvement, the lien shall not be for a sum greater than the sum earned and unpaid on the contract at the time of filing the notice of lien, and any sum subsequently earned thereon. In no case shall the owner be liable to pay by reason of all liens created pursuant to this article a sum greater than the value or agreed price of the labor and materials remaining unpaid, at the time of filing notices of such liens, except as hereinafter provided." In other words, no individual mechanic's lien can exceed the amount owed by the owner to the general contractor at the time of filing the lien … . Money still due and owing from the owner to the contractor at the time of the filing of the lien, plus any sums subsequently earned thereon, is known as the "lien fund"… .  The subcontractor's right to recover is derivative or subrogated to the right of the general contractor to recover. Thus, if the general contractor is not owed any amount under its contract with the owner, then the subcontractor may not recover… .  Peri Formwork Sys Inc v Lumbermens Mut Cas Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 07461, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

 

MENTAL HYGIENE LAW/GUARDIANSHIP

 

Article 81 Guardianship Hearing Should Not Have Been Held in the Absence of the Alleged Incapacitated Person/Counsel Should Have Been Appointed for the Alleged Incapacitated Person

 

The Second Department determined a hearing pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law article 81 to appoint a guardian for the person and property of an alleged incapacitated person should not have been held in the absence of the alleged incapacitated person.  The court further held counsel should have been appointed for the alleged incapacitated person:

 

The Supreme Court erred in conducting a hearing in the appellant's absence. There was no evidence presented at the hearing that the appellant was unable to be present in court, that she was unable to participate in the hearing, or that no meaningful participation would result from her presence … . Furthermore, the court failed to set forth in the resulting order and judgment of appointment a sufficient factual basis for conducting the hearing without the appellant being present (see Mental Hygiene Law § 81.11[d]…).

 

Moreover, since there was no evidence that the appellant made an informed decision to refuse the assistance of counsel, the Supreme Court should have appointed counsel to represent her… Matter of Gulizar NO (Rudy O), 2013 NY Slip Op 07489, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

 

MORTGAGES/TITLE INSURANCE

 

Pre-Closing Documents Can Not Be Used to Prove Conveyance or the Issuance of Title Insurance

 

The Court of Appeals determined that a third-party purchaser of mortgages in the secondary mortgage market could not “rely on pre-closing documents to establish that a proper conveyance and recording of the underlying property occurred or that title insurance for the property was issued.  DLJ Mortgage Capital, Inc v Kontogiannis…, 253 SSM 29, Ct App 11-14-13

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

Defendant Failed to Demonstrate Lack of Constructive Notice of Condition/Did Not Present Evidence of Last Inspection of Area Where Slip and Fall Occurred

 

In a slip and fall case, the Second Department noted defendants’ failure to demonstrate when the area where the fall occurred had last been inspected:

 

By failing to demonstrate when the area where the plaintiff fell was last inspected in relation to the accident, the defendants failed to make a prima facie showing that they lacked constructive notice of the allegedly dangerous condition described by the plaintiff … . Further, the defendants, by merely pointing to gaps in the plaintiff's proof, rather than affirmatively demonstrating the merit of their defense, failed to carry their burden as movants seeking summary judgment on the issue of whether the condition complained of did in fact constitute a defect… . Griffin v JK Chopra Holding LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 07448, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Summary Judgment in Rear-End Collision Case

 

In a rear-end collision case, the Second Department affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on liability.  The accident occurred when the weather was clear and the roads dry:

 

"A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of negligence with respect to the operator of the moving vehicle and imposes a duty on that operator to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a nonnegligent explanation for the collision" … . A conclusory assertion by the operator of the following vehicle that the sudden stop of the vehicle caused the accident is insufficient, in and of itself, to provide a nonnegligent explanation … . The issue of comparative fault will be left for a jury to determine only where there is a triable issue of fact as to whether the frontmost driver also operated his or her vehicle in a negligent manner … . However, " [v]ehicle stops which are foreseeable under the prevailing traffic conditions, even if sudden and frequent, must be anticipated by the driver who follows, since he or she is under a duty to maintain a safe distance between his or her car and the car ahead'… . Gutierrez v Trillium USA, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 07450, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

Abutting Property Owner Did Not Have a Duty to Maintain Crowd Control Barriers Placed on Sidewalk by City

 

The Second Department determined abutting property owners had no duty to maintain crowd control barriers erected by the City on sidewalks during the holiday season.  Therefore, plaintiff, who was allegedly injured tripping over a barrier, did not have a cause of action against the abutting property owner:

 

Generally, liability for injuries sustained as a result of dangerous and defective conditions on public sidewalks is placed on the municipality, and not the abutting landowner … . However, an abutting landowner will be liable to a pedestrian injured by a defect in a sidewalk where the landowner created the defect, caused the defect to occur by some special use of the sidewalk, or breached a specific ordinance or statute which obligates the owner to maintain the sidewalk … . "Administrative Code of the City of New York § 7-210, which became effective September 14, 2003, shifted tort liability for injuries arising from a defective sidewalk from the City of New York to the abutting property owner" … . Legislative enactment in derogation of the common law which creates liability where none previously existed must be strictly construed … .

 

Under the circumstances presented here, the defendant established, prima facie, that the barrier at issue, which was part of a long chain of barriers erected by the NYPD as part of its crowd control measures during the holiday season, was not part of the "sidewalk" for purposes of liability under Administrative Code § 7-210 … . Accordingly, Administrative Code § 7-210 is inapplicable and the defendant had no duty to maintain the barriers. Staruch v 1328 Broadway Owners, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 07467, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

 

Plaintiff Entitled to Summary Judgment Where Defendant Crossed Into Her Lane Attempting to Make a Left Turn

 

The Fourth Department determined plaintiff (Daniels) whose car was struck head-on by defendant (Rumsey), whose car crossed into plaintiff’s lane attempting to make a left turn into a parking lot, was entitled to summary judgment, even though plaintiff may have been driving five miles an hour above the speed-limit:

 

…[W]e conclude that the court properly granted Daniels’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and cross claims against her.  Pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1141, “[t]he driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left . . . into . . . [a] private road[] or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” To meet her initial burden on her motion, Daniels was required “to establish both that [Rumsey’s] vehicle suddenly entered the lane where [Daniels] was operating [her vehicle] in a lawful and prudent manner and that there was nothing [Daniels] could have done to avoid the collision” … .  Daniels met that burden by submitting evidence that the accident occurred after Rumsey turned her vehicle left into Daniels’s path of travel in the southbound curb lane of Delaware Avenue, that Daniels had the right-of-way, and that Daniels was proceeding at a speed of between 30 and 35 miles per hour at the time of the accident, i.e., no more than five miles per hour above the posted speed limit.  Daniels also established that she did not see Rumsey’s vehicle until its grill was in her lane of travel, and that she had only “[f]ractions of a second” to take evasive measures, which proved unsuccessful.  Contrary to Rumsey’s contention, the fact that Daniels may have been driving at a speed in excess of five miles per hour over the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour is inconsequential inasmuch as there is no indication that she could have avoided the accident even if she had been traveling at a speed at or below the posted speed limit … . Daniels v Rumsey, 1168, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

 

Contractor May Be Liable to Noncontracting Third Party If Area Made Less Safe by Contractor’s Work

 

The Fourth Department reinstated a claim for contribution by the owner of a parking lot (Piedmont) against the contractor (Bach) hired to raze structures and fill in all holes.  Plaintiff was injured when his foot fell through a hole into a hidden vault below:

 

We conclude that Bach met its initial burden on its motion with respect to the claim for contribution by establishing its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing that claim … .  Specifically, Bach established as a matter of law “that the injured plaintiff was not a party to [the] contract . . . and that it thus owed no duty of care to the injured plaintiff” … .  In opposition, however, Piedmont raised triable issues of fact to defeat that part of the motion.  Although plaintiff was a noncontracting third party with respect to the construction contract between Bach and Piedmont, Bach may still be liable if, “in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of its duties, [it] ‘launche[d] a force or instrument of harm’ ” … , or otherwise made the area “less safe than before the construction project began” … .  Here, there are issues of fact whether Bach negligently filled in the vault only partially, and concealed its existence, thereby creating a force or instrument of harm or otherwise making the area less safe than before the demolition project began … . Paro v Piedmont Land and Cattle, LLC…, 1189, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

No Legal Duty Owed Independent of Contract—Negligence Cause of Action Dismissed

 

In the context of the dismissal of a tort action against Ferguson Electric Service Company after a building fire, the Fourth Department explained when a contractual relationship can give rise to an action in tort:

 

“It is a well-established principle that a simple breach of contract is not to be considered a tort unless a legal duty independent of the contract itself has been violated . . . This legal duty must spring from circumstances extraneous to, and not constituting elements of, the contract, although it may be connected with and dependent upon the contract” … .  Plaintiffs cannot maintain their tort cause of action because Ferguson … owed no legal duty that is independent of the contract … .  Moreover, “a contractual obligation, standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party…”… . Niagara Foods, Inc…v Ferguson Electric Service Company, Inc…, 1044, 4th Dept 11-15-13

 

 

REAL ESTATE/HOUSING/SECTION 8 BENEFITS

 

Improper Notice of Benefit Termination/Four-Month S/L Never Triggered/Termination Annulled

 

The Second Department determined the four-month statute of limitations for Article 78 review was never triggered because the NYC Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) failed to provide proper notice of termination of Section 8 housing benefits.  Therefore the termination was properly annulled and the subsidy was properly reinstated:

 

Pursuant to paragraph 22(f) of the Williams first partial consent judgment, the four-month statute of limitations of CPLR 217 begins to run on the date of receipt of the NYCHA's notice of default letter … . Paragraph 22(f) cannot be read in a vacuum. Relying on contract principles, as urged by the NYCHA, and reading the Williams first partial consent judgment as a whole, we conclude that the NYCHA has the burden of satisfying the condition precedent of serving all three notices upon the Section 8 participant before its determination to terminate a participant's subsidy can be considered final and binding upon the participant … . * * *

 

Here, the NYCHA failed to show that it mailed two of the three required notices. It did not present any proof that it mailed the initial warning letter and it submitted insufficient proof with respect to the mailing of the T-1 letter. As a result of this failure to abide by the notice provisions set forth in the Williams first partial consent judgment, the statute of limitations was not properly triggered and did not begin to run … . Matter of Dial v Rhea, 2013 NY Slip Op 07475, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRUSTS AND ESTATES/MENTAL HYGIENE LAW/SURROGATE’S COURT

 

Surrogate’s Court Could Not Award Attorney’s Fees for Services Provided to Decedent’s Legatee (as Opposed to Services which Benefitted the Estate)

 

The Second Department upheld Surrogate’s Court’s ruling that it did not have jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees for the attorney’s (Klein’s) handling of Mental Hygiene Law article 81 proceeding to have decedent’s legatee (Theodore) declared an incapacitated person:

 

"The Surrogate's Court, as a court of limited jurisdiction, may exercise only the powers conferred upon it by statute and those powers incidental, inherent or necessary to do justice in a particular case to which its jurisdiction extends" … . Although the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act authorizes the court to fix and determine attorney's fees for services rendered to a beneficiary of an estate (see SCPA 2110[1]), "[t]he only proper parties before the Surrogate on an accounting are creditors or those claiming to be creditors of the decedent" … . Contrary to Theodore's contention, "the Surrogate's Court has no jurisdiction over a claim by a creditor against a distributee or legatee of an estate" … . However,"the Surrogate has jurisdiction to determine, and is in the best position to determine, which legal services performed by [an attorney] benefitted the estate, and which benefitted only the individual interests of [a party]" … . Since the record supports the Surrogate's determination that the services performed by Klein benefitted Theodore personally rather than the decedent's estate, the court, in effect, upon reargument, properly adhered to its determination that it lacked jurisdiction to set Klein's fee… . Matter of Tarlow, 2013 NY Slip Op 07491, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

VILLAGE-LOCAL LAW/PREEMPTION/UTILITIES (DRINKING WATER)/ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Local Law Prohibiting Use of Groundwater Outside Village Preempted by State Law

 

The Second Department determined a village Local Law which prohibited the removal of groundwater for use outside the village was preempted by state law (Transportation Corporations law, Environmental Conservation Law (ECL)):

 

As relevant to this case, the Transportation Corporations Law permits water-works corporations to extend their service area to neighboring municipalities by entering "into a contract with the authorities of any city, town or village not mentioned in its certificate of incorporation, but situated in the same county as the city, towns or villages mentioned therein or in an adjoining county" (Transportation Corporations Law § 46). … Notably, the statutory procedure for obtaining a certificate of extension does not require the water-works corporation to obtain the consent or permission of the municipality where it was originally incorporated, an omission which we must conclude the Legislature intended (see McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 240) and which comports with the long-recognized policy in favor of the extension of water resources to less-advantageously situated municipalities… . … Accordingly, we conclude that the Legislature manifested an intent to preempt local laws which have the effect of prohibiting a water-works corporation from transferring water from one municipality to another … .Further, to the extent that the Local Law was enacted, either in purpose or effect, as a measure to regulate withdrawals of groundwater, it is further preempted by article 15 of the ECL. The terms "waters," as used in ECL article 15, is expansive and includes all surface and underground water within the state's territorial limits (see ECL 15-0107[4]). ECL article 15 states: "The sovereign power to regulate and control the water resources of this state ever since its establishment has been and now is vested exclusively in the state of New York, except to the extent of any delegation of power to the United States" … . The Legislature declared it to be the public policy of the state that: "The regulation and control of the water resources of the state of New York be exercised only pursuant to the laws of this state" (ECL 15-0105[1] … ), and the Department of Environmental Conservation (hereinafter the DEC) is given jurisdiction "in any matter affecting the construction of improvements to or developments of water resources for the public health, safety or welfare, including but not limited to the supply of potable waters for the various municipalities and inhabitants thereof" (ECL 15-0109). Woodbury Hgts Estates Water Co Inc v Village of Woodbury, 2013 NY Slip Op 07468, 2nd Dept 11-13-13

 

 

WORKER’S COMPENSATION

 

 

Stroke Not Work-Related

 

The Third Department affirmed the determination that claimant’s stroke was not work-related:

 

 

Inasmuch as it is undisputed that claimant's stroke occurred while he was at work, he was entitled to the statutory presumption that his stroke arose out of and in the course of his employment (see Workers' Compensation Law § 21… ). The employer, however, may rebut that presumption with substantial evidence to the contrary … . Here, the employer's medical expert opined that claimant's stroke was not related to his employment, but was directly related to certain preexisting conditions, including cerebral vascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and a prior transient ischemic attack, which combined to put claimant "at extreme risk for a stroke."Claimant's medical expert, although unaware of certain of claimant's preexisting conditions that he testified may be predisposing factors for a stroke, concluded that claimant's stroke was caused by job related exertion and fatigue. * * *Inasmuch as the Board is vested with the authority to credit the opinion of one medical expert over another …, its determination that there was no causal relationship between claimant's stroke and his employment is supported by substantial evidence and will not be disturbed. Matter of Pengal v Chloe Foods Corporation…, 513003, 3rd Dept 11-14-13

 

ZONING/LAND USE

 

Criteria Not Met for “Special Facts” Exception to Rule that the Zoning Law in Effect at the Time a Site Plan Application is Decided Is Controlling

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, the Court of Appeals determined that the zoning law in effect at the time the applicant’s (Rocky Point’s) site plan application was decided, as opposed to the zoning law in effect when the application was first submitted, controlled. The criteria for the “special facts” exception to the general rule (general rule = applying the law at the time the application was decided) was not met. The court explained:

 

In land use cases, the law in effect when the application is decided applies, regardless of any intervening amendments to the zoning law … . Rocky Point seeks to avoid this rule and have the zoning law in effect at the time it submitted its application apply to its request, arguing it falls within the "special facts" exception to the general time of decision rule.Under the special facts exception, where the land owner establishes that they are entitled as a matter of right to the underlying land use application---here, a "site plan"--the application is determined under the zoning law in effect at the time the application is submitted …. In order for a land owner to establish entitlement to the request as a matter of right, the land owner must be in "full compliance with the requirements at the time of the application," such that "proper action upon the permit would have given [the land owner] time to acquire a vested right" … . In addition to showing entitlement to the request as a matter of right, the land owner must also show "extensive delay indicative of bad faith," …, "unjustifiable actions" by the municipal officials, …, or "abuse of administrative procedures" ….As the record establishes, Rocky Point fails to meet the threshold requirement that it was entitled to the requested land use permit under the law as it existed when it filed its application. Rocky Point Drive-In LP v Town of Brookhaven, 197, Ct App 11-14-13